It seems like every NL team is headed into 2016 with an armload of shiny young outfielders. Gregory Polanco looks primed to deliver a huge season in Pittsburgh, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty are an interesting duo in St. Louis, David Peralta in Arizona, Christian Yelich in Miami, Joc Pederson in Los Angeles, Aaron Altherr in Philly… The list goes on.
Nothing gets me more excited than promising young outfielders, and that’s because the best players in the game today are all in the outfielder. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and the undisputed #1 and #2, and then you’ve got Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen close behind. It’s a true golden age for outfielders, I’ve been tapping into that by building the offensive cores of all my fantasy teams around outfielders. In particular, one of my teams features an outfield that looks like this:
I took Stanton and McCutchen back-to-back in the first two rounds, snapped up Carlos Gonzalez in the sixth round at what I thought was a huge discount (took him with pick 66, his ADP is 52), and then waited until the 16th round to grab a 23-year-old left fielder who is perhaps the most intriguing of all the young National League outfielders: Michael Conforto.
Whether it was because of his torrid minor league statistics (.406 wOBA over 197 PA in AA ball) or because the Mets were willing to try anything to succeed in the postseason, but Conforto completely skipped over Triple-A, playing in only 133 total Minor League games before making his debut in the show. His Major League sample size is very small—and that’s the key to why it’s so hard to project him going forward—but it showed a lot of positive signs.
Conforto batted .270/.335/.506 while displaying solid patience (8.8 BB% and 20.1 K%) and plus-defence in left field. As a prospect (10th overall pick in the 2014 Draft), he was known for his arm and his raw power, but what surprised me was how well that power translated into games. He swatted fourteen doubles and nine homers in just 194 PA while posting a strong .236 ISO and a 17% HR/FB rate.
Looking at his Minor League track record and his 2015 peripherals, that surprising power is a good bet for regression. While Conforto’s ISO did improve at every level, his previous high mark over a similar sample was .191. The main reason I’m forecasting a power dip is his unsustainable 17% HR/FB rate – meaning almost one of every five fly balls he hit left the park. For reference, the leader in HR/FB last season was Nelson Cruz at 30.3%, and a 17% HR/FB puts you on par with Manny Machado and Albert Pujols.
Having a high HR/FB rate is not bad in itself, you need that to hit a lot of home runs, but luckily Fangraph’s Mike Podhorzer (this guy is seriously awesome) has created a statistic called xHR/FB that can let us know when a hitter is getting lucky with his fly balls.
This nifty statistic takes into account the average distance and average absolute angle (this measures a hitter’s tendency to hit balls closer or further from the foul lines) of a hitter’s fly balls and home runs to give a more accurate estimate of what their HR/FB should have been.
Conforto’s xHR/FB last season was 11.3%, meaning some of his fly balls maybe wouldn’t have been home runs in a parallel universe. Still, looking at his swing, I see potential for a line drive machine who will consistently hit 30+ doubles a season and hit for solid average.
The projections have him pegged for around 20 homers this season, and even though that seems bullish already, I would take the over based on his exit velocity alone. Statcast measured his average exit velocity at 93.3 mph, good for 22nd best in MLB and tied with a guy called Paul Goldschmidt. Even though it’s probably too small a sample size to tell if that’s his true average exit velocity, we know Conforto can hit the ball very hard.
Conforto’s BABIP has bounced around a lot, but averages out at around .300. His bat speed and sneaky foot speed will keep his average propped up around .260-.280, so definitely put me down for the over on his projected .255/.320/.466 line (from ZiPS). Hitting seventh in the Mets lineup won’t do him any favours for fantasy purposes, but I’m betting he gets moved up in the order by the end of the season.
Finally, just for fun, I want to see how you guys are valuing all these young NL outfielders. My personal rankings of the ones I mentioned at the top are as follows:
- Gregory Polanco
- Randal Grichuk
- David Peralta
- Christian Yelich
- Stephen Piscotty
- Joc Pederson
- Michael Conforto
Let me know what you think by commenting with your ranks or voting in the poll!